Week 15 picks

3-3 record last week thanks to Tye Belanger keeping the Rush offense to only 7 goals and the Wings remembering how to score goals. The only way I can finish at or above .500 this season is to go 8-1 or 9-0 in the last two weeks, so that is the plan. If it doesn’t happen, it’s not my fault – blame the players for not going along with the plan.

Record: 28-35 (.444)

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ROC @ CAL Rochester will very likely make the playoffs, which wasn’t certain only a few weeks ago. Calgary already has but would like a home playoff game. Both teams have won 3 of their last 5 (for Calgary, it’s actually 3 of their last 4). Matt Vinc hasn’t given up as many as 12 in a game since January 19 and has held the Wings, Rock, Bandits, and Stealth to single-digits since then. Mike Poulin has only kept opponents below 12 four times this season. Knighthawks
MIN @ COL Minnesota seems to have become the team I thought they were going to be at the beginning of the season, though it took them a long time to get there. Callum Crawford is on fire (7+ points in 5 straight games) and Tyler Carlson has a GAA of 6.00 and save % of 88% in his last two starts. Since Minnesota keeps swapping starting goalies and Kirk lost in Philly last week, this is Carlson’s game. Swarm
TOR @ PHI The Rock really want that top seed overall, but the Wings aren’t guaranteed a playoff spot quite yet, and they always seem to give the Rock trouble. When Brandon Miller is “on”, he’s almost untouchable (though you could say that about almost all of the starting goalies in the league), and with Mundorf back from injury, the Wings offense just got stronger. The Rock currently have the best record in the league, so picking them is not a homer pick. I’m sticking to that. Rock
BUF @ WAS The Bandits seem to have lost interest in the 2013 season, while the Stealth still have a chance at a home playoff game. Buffalo is this close to being eliminated from the playoffs, so either they’ll pour on the energy this weekend in an attempt to stay in the race, or they’ll fold, figuring they have no chance. I didn’t see much fight in them last week or the week before, so I don’t expect much this weekend. Stealth
ROC @ EDM The Rush are 1-5 at home and 7-1 on the road, so maybe they’re not playing for home-floor advantage in the playoffs. The Rush looked too good in their games against Buffalo and Toronto the other week to bet against them. Every team had bad games, which is what they had against Colorado last week, but I think they’ll bounce back. Rush

NLL Annual Award short lists and prediction recap

There are still a couple of weeks left in the season, but here are some early player award possibilities as well as a look at my predictions from the beginning of the season. Some of them were pretty close, others… not so much.

The front-runners are the few people, in no particular order, who I think have the best shot of winning the award. For the most part, I haven’t made my actual selections yet, so these are just my short-lists. In most cases, I put a dark horse as well; someone who probably won’t win the award but should be considered.

MVP

Prediction: Dan Dawson, Garrett Billings. Dawson has been good but not outstanding. Billings has been outstanding.

Front-runners: Garrett Billings, Shawn Evans, Mark Matthews

Dark horse: Callum Crawford

Goaltender of the Year

Prediction: Anthony Cosmo, Aaron Bold. Cosmo hasn’t been great, though I wouldn’t blame the Bandits lousy season on him. Bold is 3rd among starters in GAA but 8th in save %. He has been very good, though not as good as last year.

Front-runners: Matt Vinc, Nick Rose, Tyler Richards

Dark horse: Tye Belanger has been excellent though has half the minutes of the other starters (other than the Swarm’s dynamic duo).

Transition Player of the Year

Prediction: Jordan MacIntosh, Paul Rabil. MacIntosh is on my short list. Rabil has been good but not Tranny of the Year good.

Front-runners: Geoff Snider, Jordan MacIntosh, Jesse Gamble, Jeremy Thompson, Jordan Hall

Dark horse: Brad Self

Defensive Player of the Year

I’ll admit it: I suck when it comes to evaluating defensemen. Part of it is because I’m a stats guy, and there are no really useful stats for defenders. But a lot of it is that I have no formal training – I’m self-taught in the art of watching lacrosse. I’m a fan who’s never actually played the game. When I’m watching a game, I’m watching the offensive players and the goalie. I will notice when a defender makes a great play or if a team seems to hear the shot clock buzzer an awful lot (implying a good defensive unit), but I don’t generally notice individual defenders. That said, I have made a point to watch Kyle Rubisch and Chris Corbeil because you hear about them so much, and Sandy Chapman has always been one of my favourite Rock players. I remember watching Paul Dawson shut people down (and occasionally beat the snot out of them) with the Blazers.

It’s weird though – I can look at a list of transition players and have general feelings on how they’ve been playing without looking at the stats. I have no idea how many points Brad Self has, or Jordan Hall, or Jeremy Thompson, but I know they’re having good seasons. I have no such impressions with pure defenders.

Prediction: Kyle Rubisch, Paul Dawson

Front-runners: Kyle Rubisch, Chris Corbeil, Paul Dawson, Scott Self

Dark horse: I got nothing.

Rookie of the Year

Prediction: Mark Matthews, Kiel Matisz. Woo, nailed it on this one. Unlike everyone else who also predicted Matthews as ROY.

Front-runners: Mark Matthews, Kiel Matisz, Tye Belanger, Mitch McMichael, Kyle Belton, Curtis Knight, Dhane Smith

Dark horse: Anyone but Matthews, really.

Update: Can’t believe I forgot Dhane Smith on the original list. Also, apparently Tye Belanger is not considered a rookie.

Les Bartley Award

Prediction: Troy Cordingley, Joe Sullivan. Again, nailed it.

Front-runners: Troy Cordingley, Chris Hall, Joe Sullivan, Derek Keenan

Dark horse: Mike Hasen if the Knighthawks continue playing well in the last two weeks.

GM of the Year

Prediction: Curt Styres, Steve Dietrich. The Knighthawks and Bandits both made significant offseason moves and I thought at least one of them would be successful. The offseason Rochester moves didn’t seem to make the team appreciably better, but the Powell-for-Sullivan, Self, and Purves moves were all good. The Bandits moves made the team worse and other than Dhane Smith, didn’t really set them up for the future either (though the Cosmo trade that lost them next year’s first round pick was Kilgour, not Dietrich).

Front-runners: Derek Keenan, John Arlotta

Dark horse: Johnny Mouradian. Dawson+Dawson for Rabil+Hall isn’t nearly the disaster I thought it might be.

Careers cut short

Again this year, the NLL has been hit by the worst kind of injury bug – the one that takes a player out of the league permanently. It’s been almost two months since Knighthawks defender Ryan Cousins was forced to retire due to persistent injuries. Cousins is a former two-time Defender of the Year and was captain of the Minnesota Swarm for seven years. Now, he also played in the league for eleven seasons so it’s not like his career was cut short after only a few years, but at 31, he could easily have played 5 or 6 more years and possibly more than that.

As an aside, while looking for details on Cousins’ retirement, I came across this article by Rochester fan (and NLL employee) Alex Hinkley and was stunned to read that Hinkley believes Cousins should not have retired. Cousins makes what is likely one of the most difficult decisions of his life and Hinkley has the gall to say he shouldn’t have retired? Yes, he was injured last year and came back to play, but he says himself that he had yet another injury before this season began. Normally when a player retires due to injury, it’s not because he can’t be bothered to do the work required to get back in shape, it’s because their doctor has told them that any further injuries could do irreparable damage. Cousins might have decided that playing one more year of lacrosse wasn’t worth spending the rest of his life walking with a cane. It’s possible, even likely, that Cousins may come to regret retiring. But I think it’s more likely that Cousins, along with his family and doctor, decided that he’d much rather retire and wish he hadn’t than not retire and wish he had.

Ryan CousinsCousins wasn’t the only player who retired this season because of injury. Dan Carey, also 31, announced his retirement just before the season began after suffering a concussion near the end of the 2012 season. Carey also missed half of 2009 and all of 2010 due to concussion. Phil Sanderson, another concussion victim on the Rock, hasn’t officially retired, but he missed the last two games of 2012 plus the playoffs and has yet to play in 2013.

If you go over the list of NLL players who have had to retire early due to injuries, a few pretty big names show up:

  • Merrick Thomson accumulated 124 points in two seasons with the Wings (and was an MLL star as well) before concussions ended his very promising career in 2011 at the age of only 27.
  • Ken Montour, the 2009 NLL goaltender of the year, experienced a concussion during a game in 2010 (also at age 31) and never played again. Montour (as well as Thomson and Tracey Kelusky) talks about his experiences in a must-read interview with IL Indoor’s Stephen Stamp from back in 2011.
  • Paul Gait retired after the 2002 season (during which he scored 114 points, the third highest total ever) at the age of 35 due to knee injuries. We’ll ignore the four games he played with the Mammoth in 2005. His twin brother Gary played 3 more full seasons with the Mammoth before retiring, and then unretired in 2009, played 24 more games with the Knighthawks, then retired again.
  • Mark Miyashita was the first overall draft pick of the Vancouver Ravens in 2003 but only played 46 games over 5 seasons with Vancouver, Colorado, and Minnesota before multiple ACL injuries forced him to retire.

The quintessential example of an athlete forced to retire early because of injuries is Bobby Orr. Orr, considered by some as a better hockey player than Wayne Gretzky, played nine full seasons in the NHL and then parts of three more before retiring at age 30 because of repeated damage to his knees. Now Sidney Crosby is in danger of being added to this list, having missed much of the last couple of seasons due to a couple of serious concussions. Last week, he was hit in the head with a puck, breaking his jaw. He’s reporting no concussion symptoms from that, but we all know that if he suffers one more concussion, his career is likely over. Crosby won’t even be 26 until this summer.

There has been a lot of research and a lot more discussion on head injuries in sports in recent years, which will hopefully reduce the number of concussions and early retirements. But due to the nature of sports, particularly contact sports like football, hockey, and lacrosse, you will never completely eliminate the possibility. It’s something the athletes know and a risk they’ve accepted. When you see a freak accident like the one that ended Andrew Suitor’s 2013 season, you start to appreciate the ability of players like Colin Doyle, Shawn Williams, and John Tavares to be able to play for so long. How do they do it? There’s some conditioning involved – being in top physical shape can help you avoid some injuries and recover more easily from others. Being a smart player, and therefore being able to avoid situations that could result in injury, is another advantage these guys have. But Suitor is also a professional athlete, in top shape, and is unquestionably a smart lacrosse player.

Sometimes, as they say, shit happens. Part of the “secret” to a long playing career is just to be lucky.


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Game report: Rochester 9 @ Toronto 10

The Rock wanted to clinch first place in the East last week, but Matt Vinc had other ideas. Rochester’s 2013 season hasn’t gone they way they wanted to, I’m sure, but they are by no means out of the race and with Vinc in net, the Knighthawks are no pushovers. In Sunday’s rematch, the Rock didn’t exactly solve Vinc – he still only allowed 10 goals – but they certainly had more success in preventing the Knighthawks forwards from scoring. I wouldn’t say Nick Rose was outstanding, though he was solid, but the Rock defense played very well. In particular I saw outstanding defensive plays from Mike Hobbins, Stephen Hoar, Damon Edwards, Jesse Gamble, and Kyle Belton – and those are just the ones I made mental notes of.

The game started off with some good and bad news. Good news: Colin Doyle’s wife is in labour! Child #3 is on the way! Bad news: Colin has this crazy “I love my family” thing going, so he left to be with his wife – which is totally the right thing to do, I say as my wife reads this over my shoulder. Seriously, congratulations to the Doyle family and welcome to the world, young baby Doyle.

Doyle is having an outstanding season so his loss was going to be noticed. But as good teams do, everyone else stepped up when one of the top players is out. Josh Sanderson was acting captain and also returned to his old post of anchoring the offense along with Garrett Billings. Billings had 6 points – a pretty good total for most other players, but Billings’ second-lowest of the season (he had 4 games with 4 points). Kasey Beirnes also had a good game, also with 6 points, and continues his role as unsung hero of the Rock. If asked to name the offensive stars of the team, Beirnes’ name doesn’t come to mind quite as quickly as Billings, Doyle, Sanderson, or Leblanc, but if you ask Troy Cordingley, Terry Sanderson, or Colin Doyle about him, they can’t say enough good things about his play, and many Rock fans know him as one of the hardest working forwards out there. I asked this philosophical question a few years ago about Shawn Williams and it seems to apply to Beirnes as well – if everyone thinks of you as an underrated player, are you?

As I said before, the Rock defense was excellent. Not only did they play well as a unit, there were some great individual efforts as well. Mike Hobbins was covering Dan Dawson in the first quarter and just wouldn’t let him get open to take a shot or even pass. When the shot clock buzzer sounded, Dawson dropped the ball and was so frustrated he grabbed Hobbins, threw him to the floor, and stormed off to his bench. The Knighthawks defense was also solid, though I wish they’d use B. Self and S. Self on the jerseys instead of just Self so I’d know who to credit for a particular play in which someone (Beirnes?) was basically mashed into the end boards and held there until the shot clock expired. I think it was Scott (since Brad is more of a transition guy), who was a nice little pickup for the Knighthawks considering they gave up Kedoh Hill from their practice roster for him.

Only one game left in the Rock season, a game in Philly to try and clinch top spot in the league and home floor throughout the playoffs. The Knighthawks, on the other hand, have three games left – a nasty Alberta doubleheader against the Roughnecks and Rush, and then the season finale against Buffalo.

Just a couple of other game notes:

  • In the second half, a Knighthawks goal was disallowed (I think – might have been a Rock goal), and Rochester coach Mike Hasen wanted to challenge the call. He threw the challenge flag – and hit the referee square in the chest. The ref stopped and glared directly at Hasen for a full ten seconds before continuing to the officials area. I was watching the ref and not Hasen, so I don’t know what he was doing. NLL Rule 17.89 says that if the coach attempts to hit the ref with the flag, the team gets an unsportsmanlike minor and the coach gets a game misconduct. It also says that the ref has discretion to decide whether the throw was intentional or not. There was no penalty, so presumably the ref decided it was accidental. Oddly, Hasen did not throw the flag directly away from the bench, or closer to mid-floor as coaches generally do, he threw it in the direction of the net, which was also where the ref was. Perhaps he was trying to throw it near the ref, to make sure he was aware that he was challenging the call, and the throw was more accurate than he intended.
  • The Rock’s anthem singer also works game ops for the team, and was picking up balls during the halftime shooting contest. I was worried that a ball might hit him and break him in half – he looks about 6-foot-1 and 120 pounds. For a skinny little guy, he has one hell of a powerful voice though.

Week 14 picks

Last week I went 3-2, my fourth straight week of .500-or-better predictions. I guess I’m settling down as we get deeper into the season. You know what they say, particularly in the NLL – you don’t want to peak early. Much better to get hot near the end of the season. Right, 2012 Knighthawks?

Record: 25-32 (.439)

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WAS @ CAL Tough one. Washington can clinch a playoff spot by beating the Roughnecks, so they’re hungry. The Roughnecks know they were one T-Rich penalty away from losing to the Stealth last weekend, and they’re playing to clinch a home date. I’ll take Calgary at home, but in a close one. Roughnecks
COL @ EDM How can you bet against the Rush, the way they’ve been playing? Sure they’re 1-4 at home, but haven’t played there in over a month and have since won five straight including beating both the Rock and Roughnecks handily. Rush
BUF @ MIN The Swarm have won their last two by 7 and 9 goals. The Bandits have lost five in a row. The Bandits certainly have the talent to win this game, and you’d think that having their backs to the wall playoff-wise would spur them on to play better. But I didn’t see that last week in Toronto. Coach Darris Kilgour questioned their heart last year, but this year might be worse. Swarm
PHI @ ROC Rochester seems to have found their groove after trading Casey Powell. Not that he was the cause of their problems, but moving him freed up the rest of their offense. That seems to have helped, adding Scott Self made a pretty good defense better, and Matt Vinc has been great all year. If anyone other than the Rush are getting hot at the right time, it might be the Knighthawks. Knighthawks
MIN @ PHI I had little confidence in the Wings before the season began, and there have been times where they’ve surprised me with how well they’ve played. But they’ve also had 20 goals scored against them twice this year and other than their early-season win over the Rock, all of their wins have come against teams below them in the standings. Like I said before, I’m still bullish on the Swarm – and that was before they destroyed the Wings last week. Swarm
ROC @ TOR Rochester played well in their game against the Rock last weekend, and as I said they seem to be getting hot at the right time. But the Rock really wanted to clinch the Eastern division title last weekend and the Knighthawks prevented that. They won’t want to let that happen again, particularly in their own building. Rock

How to tell if you’re watching too much lacrosse

During NLL season, I watch a lot of lacrosse. Before scheduling things on a weekend, my wife routinely checks with me to see when the games are. It’s not mandatory that I watch all of them, but I try to watch as many as I can. On the other hand, I’ve been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs my entire life, and yet I’ve seen pieces of maybe 3 or 4 Leaf games this season on TV. I don’t think I’ve watched an entire game from beginning to end.

It’s possible that I’m watching too much lacrosse.

If you suspect you have the same problem, here’s a handy checklist. If you recognize these symptoms just remember, admitting you have a problem is the first step.

You may watch too much lacrosse if:

  • You see 6-5 as the final score of a hockey game and think that both goalies must have been outstanding.
  • Watching a live sporting event from Monday-Thursday seems weird.
  • You say things like “that tranny is really good at grabbing loose balls” and think nothing of it.
  • You think of Brian Shanahan as “Shanny” and Brendan as “Shanny’s brother”, not the other way around.
  • You watch a hockey game on TV and wonder why the announcers are not explaining the rules as they go.
  • A defenseman scoring a hat-trick in a game raises your eyebrows a little, but not much.
  • The idea of a player missing games or even entire seasons because they couldn’t get time off from work is not unusual to you.
  • You think it’s weird how hockey defensemen stay out on the ice even when their team has the puck.
  • In an NHL game, you see someone score a goal while his foot is in the crease and wonder why nobody’s yelling about it, except that guy over there from Buffalo.